The editors asked readers to consider their experiences of “Radical Welcome,” and how or why they felt especially recognized or welcomed at a church. Here are a few replies:

   When I was at a funeral service last month for my mother's cousin Susan, I was feeling anxious, even though it was at an Episcopal church, and even though I was surrounded by family. It was the first time I had attended a family funeral outside my own parish. But starting with the moment I arrived, so many people came forward to make sure I was welcomed and cared for. A friendly usher waiting near the parking lot directed me to the chapel. Staffers made the staging area for my family seem a bit less "funerally" (I know that's not a word!). The verger introduced himself and told me he was my second-cousin-once-removed. These small actions helped me feel connected. My newcomer experience didn’t stop there: the congregants were well-mannered and the priest seemed so down-to-earth — he was able to make us laugh and feel at peace at a family funeral, which was a first for my life. I was amazed at the ability of people to stand up and speak freely about Susan.

Sure, some standard protocol was not adhered to, but everything, including the parishioners in the reception hall providing lunch for us, felt radical. And because of the wonderful people there, I brought my teacup and saucer into the kitchen and thanked the woman cleaning up. She was so surprised! Tucked away from the crowd, she was working quietly in the background, without applause, to make sure every last thing was taken care of. Oddly, that was the moment that made me feel most welcomed.

I might be wrong, but aside from not having a chapel or a verger who is related to me here at St. Margaret’s, I think that same warmth and welcoming goodness is here, too.

I think the most radical part of that day was discovering what a verger was and then feeling a bit creepy that he knew who I was. But when he told me the Warden also had to be the Verger (meaning he was the Warden AND the Verger), I was a bit more in awe. I couldn’t help but feel grateful that our Wardens didn’t have to be Vergers on top of all they already do on behalf of the congregation!

That was the day I realized I could completely enjoy another church. Or maybe it had to do with my mom's cousin admitting in church that he and his brother had broken his mother's plates having a fight like kids the night before, or saying in front of the priest the music he and his sister listened to. I don’t know … I just know it was definitely radical.

~ Kathleen C.

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    It seems to us the Episcopal Church has been talking about “Radical Welcome” for some time now, and while understanding the concept, we were not totally drawn into it until we became the “new guys on the block” instead of the people welcoming the newcomer. We draw examples from two Episcopal parishes here in North Carolina that we have visited, looking for a new Episcopal presence in our lives. Both have services that are traditional, BCP-inspired weekly Eucharists as we have been accustomed to on Long Island.

We can only describe the parishioners in the one church as traditional “frozen-chosen” Episcopalians. We were pretty much ignored by the majority of the church-goers for five straight weeks in a row. A conversation was developed on the sixth Sunday with the new organist/choir director and some members of the choir – similar interests, we suppose. 

Attending service at the second parish was like meeting old friends. Numerous people enthusiastically introduced themselves as we walked into the Narthex. As the service ended we were invited to coffee hour (which is a stand-up affair in the Narthex). We met lots of people whose names could only be remembered because they all were wearing nametags. We arrived on the next Sunday to find that nametags had already been prepared for us to wear, a sure sign of welcome (the first church also uses name tags, but we’ve yet to be presented with a name tag there).

There are certainly other criteria in play when choosing a place to worship our magnificent and awesome God. But the initial perception remains the critical highpoint of that selection. So, in which of these churches have we received a radical welcome?

~ Steve Perrone and Florence Brady

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   When we three (Barbara F., Barbara H. and Dee Dee) first came to St. Margaret’s Church about seven years ago, we had the best experience of meeting everyone together at the same time - at the 9:30 a.m. summer service. We were welcomed by our dear Chet Ames, a loving sentinel at the front door, who took us for a personal tour of our cemetery and then invited and brought us down for fellowship hour and introduced us to everyone else with coffee, food and conversation. 

We knew when we left church that morning that we had a new church family.

That heartwarming beginning has encouraged me time and again to invite other worshipers, perhaps celebrating memorials, to join us for coffee hour. I'm still mindful of Chet and his deep love for his church as I respond to others, as I feel his presence with us all. Proverbs 3: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart."

Barbara Festa